Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Don’t write off the older worker

Companies today are hobbled by so many rules and regulations regarding hiring that the only unprotected class of worker left seems to be white males under age 40. We know that discrimination is unlawful and really stupid, but there can be subtle ways that companies discriminate anyway, and those can cause problems.

The area I want to focus on is age discrimination. This one is actually the most inadvertent but can also be a big headache to a company.

Over the past several years, companies have tried to reduce their workforces through layoffs and buyouts. The focus from the company is generally on the higher paid worker since that will save the most money. But the word “older” can be substituted for “higher paid” as they are virtually the same. Boom! That is discrimination. A number of companies that have attempted to trim their workforces over the last few years have been successfully sued for age discrimination in these cases.

One must be very careful here. If a company lays off an older worker to save payroll dollars, it is a landmine. If workers are given a choice through a buyout program, the choice rests with the worker and there is no discrimination.

All of this is background for the hiring side of the equation. For many years, we would hear from companies that offered a “career” position. That is usually a codeword for a young person who can spend many years at the company. It could also be a codeword for age discrimination.

The odd part of this is that so few people work in “careers” any more. A career belongs to a person, not to the company, and a person’s career might cover several companies.

The statistics are staggering. It used to be said that the average person worked for six or seven companies over a career. I read recently that people now have three careers over a lifetime, so what are the chances that the 30-year-old sitting in front of you in an interview will spend the balance of his career with you? My guess is zero.

So ... all of this is a setup for hiring older workers. I know that the younger a person is, the more likely it is that he or she will make changes — several changes — before being ready to settle down in a “career” position.

But imagine that the person sitting there is 55 or 60. People this age are at the sunset of their careers and are probably not going anywhere. They can give several more years. The Social Security retirement age is moving upward, so a 60-year-old may have six or seven more years left before he or she is ready to retire.

The other factor with the 60-year-old sitting in front of you now is his or her work ethic. Older workers have fewer family obligations and small children to worry about. These are people who have had a career and know what loyalty and hard work are all about. The odds of an older person’s being habitually late for work, for example, are much lower than with a younger person.

None of this is meant to demean younger workers. They represent the future of our country’s workforce. Instead, think of this as a plea to look at every candidate for a job in the same light.

I often counsel companies on the hiring process. Many companies take way too long deciding and lose the best candidates to companies that spend less time on it. Too many companies want to see every resume and interview every candidate.

It is appropriate to set a reasonable cutoff on the resumes. Then take the time to interview about five or six candidates. That should fill the bill but it should also allow you to interview a couple of older candidates as well. You might be amazed by the results. •

Dave Mount is the owner of Westaff in Burlington.

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